Ginger Nuts of Horror
Synopsis: John Carpenter’s They Live (1988), stars pro wrestler “Rowdy” Roddy Piper as an unnamed lowly transient (identified in the credits as “Nada,” and in the script as “John Nada”) who discovers a stash of sunglasses, which, when worn, reveals an Alien manipulated and driven world. Chaos ensues.
Sadly, in the annuls of horror and sci-fi classics, I don’t believe They Live receives the amount of attention that it should. They Live is timeless and iconic movie, yet it’s also one of the most under-recognized, over looked and under-appreciated. They Live is scary, it’s shocking, it’s thoughtful, it’s masterful … and in many ways, aspects of They Live have become a reality. Considering how important They Live is to me, coupled with the important messages it contains, I’m always amazed at how many people haven’t seen this film … or even heard of it. I find it just wrong … and I always enjoy describing and discussing They Live and demanding that it be viewed as soon as possible.
The storyline and images of They Live have always stuck with me; in my younger days, the film seemingly combined two things that I loved—pro wrestling and scary movies—and that’s all I needed. But that immature and simplistic view of the film has obviously changed with time, and watching They Live throughout different phases of my life, I’ve been able to enjoy it on a variety of levels; I understand and appreciate the intricacies of the plot; and as a student of the media, I understand and appreciate the important underlying message of the film; as a film buff, I appreciate the nuances and the methodical way John Carpenter tells the story; and I appreciate how They Live is—unlike contemporaneous films that all seemingly look and sound the same—distinctly John Carpenter in every single way; as a lifelong Roddy Piper fan, I appreciate Piper’s stellar portrayal of John Nada; and I always marvel at how many of the fictional elements presented in They Live have slowly become reality based norms in our lives, our culture and our society.
The horror in They Live is relatable. Via the sunglasses (“Hoffman glasses”), John Nada discovers that the world isn’t as it seems; in fact, the human race is not only being brainwashed with subliminal propaganda, but those controlling the message and the wealth are hideous aliens disguised as humans. Outside the media and societal commentary, They Live also commentates on life … and how, for the most part, things and people and norms and values aren’t always as they seem. In many instances, there is a dark side. And when that dark side is exposed, it can be ugly and, in some instances, even scary. We’ve all had They Live moments in our life where we put on the sunglasses and see things for how they really are. When Nada first puts on the sunglasses and discovers the shocking truth, the look of confusion and disbelief on his face is one we’ve all had at one time or another—and these real life moments of revelation are often as horrific and disturbing as seeing ghouls. And we’ve all had frustrating encounters with friends or family where we try and get them to see the truth, and they refuse … just like the lengthy physical confrontation between Nada and Frank wherein Nada tries to get Frank to put on the sunglasses so he too can see the truth.
And the dark humor is relatable.
I mean, at some point in their life, everyone has wanted
to chew bubblegum and kick ass
only to learn that they’re all out of bubblegum.
It has happened to us all.
And since it’s my favorite all-time film, it’s only natural that aspects of They Live find their way into my fiction.
In my first short fiction collection, Dead Wrestlers, Broken Necks & the Women Who Screwed Me Over, the opening story, “Gunfighter’s Seat,” features a narrator named Nada. This narrator returns for the lengthy story, “She Said,” in the We Leave With Our Guns Out!
In both “Gunfighter’s Seat” and “She Said,” Nada (a character some believe to be a representation of myself) encounters various odd, bizarrely ironic and oftentimes troubling situations—situations that, as with They Live, are revealed in dramatic fashion.
In “She Said,” Nada is with his disturbed girlfriend, Rane, looking at books in a free bin outside a used bookstore when he turns, puts on his sunglasses, turns and realizes that Rane is really a vile monster. When he takes off the glasses, she appears normal. And the books Nada pulls out of the free box are the same books in the bookstand behind Nada during They Live’s infamous “revelation scene.” The allusions are subtle. They Live fans will understand the references; those unfamiliar with They Live can still read the scene without feeling like they missed something.
In Living Well is the Best Revenge: D.B. Cooper, The G-Heist Gang & the Missing Two Million, it only made sense for me to include a scene with They Live. Criminal Gilbert Gootch is hiding out from the cops, watching showing after showing of They Live in a dollar theater. An altercation takes place when the theater manager realizes Gootch (who is wearing sunglasses) has sat through multiple films and has only paid for one; obviously wanting to keep low-key and incognito, Gootch slips the manager $20 and claims his brother wrote the script—which prompts the manager to feel bad and bring Gootch some snacks. When Gootch finally leaves the theater near close, he heads to the town bridge … where he promptly gets killed while faking his own death.
In What You Are, the character of Nada returns and unwillingly encounters more from the darkside of life. For Nada, he always puts on the symbolic sunglasses and realizes the world isn’t what he believed it to be.
And my most recent novel, The Life & Mimes (& Zombie Apocalypse) of Ripper the Clown: the Autobiography of an Unconventional Zombie, the Vice President of the United States in named John Nada … whose claim to fame is that he once fought aliens and who likes to babble about chewing bubblegum and kicking ass. I also make a few Roddy Piper references in The Life & Mimes… and they exist concurrently as if both Piper and John Nada are separate people/entities.
And through performing as Ripper the Clown, I’ve been able to take my love for They Live into video spoofs.
Here is a commercial for a comic book store featuring a parody of Roddy Piper’s “chew bubblegum and kick ass” scene complete with They Live propaganda at the end advertising the store. (It’s hard for me to believe that nothing like this has ever been done before.):
And a combination spoof of They Live and The Dead Files wherein the paranormal investigator clown re-enacts Piper’s cheese dip scene:
And a stand-up comedy set involving They Live aliens abducting a clown who gets motion sick (tweeted by Roddy Piper in October 2013):
If someone who hasn’t seen They Live is inspired to watch the movie based on a reference in my books or videos, then I’ve done my job.
My name is listed in the DVD credits for the Shout! Factory release of the They Live Collector’s Edition (2012); considering my lifelong love of They Live, having my name included on the DVD, for my minor contribution, is truly an honor.
As a youngster, watching Roddy Piper put on the sunglasses and fight those aliens, I never would have imagined They Live would play such a role in my life—as an author, as a performer … and as, mainly, a fan.